Science + Technology

UCLA Survey of Firearm Dealers in 20 U.S. Cities Shows Some Willing to Make Illegal Handgun Sales


Some gun dealers are willing to sell handguns even when thebuyer indicates the end user is prohibited from purchasing a firearm, accordingto a unique UCLA survey of dealers in 20 of the nation's largest cities. Thefindings appear in the June edition of the peer-reviewed journal InjuryPrevention.

The survey results demonstrate the need for changes in lawsabout gun sales and transfers, and for more resources to conduct gun salecompliance checks, according to lead author Susan B. Sorenson, professor of communityhealth sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health.

"In the absence of federal handgun registration, firearmdealers carry the primary burden in the United States for assuring guns are notsold to individuals who are prohibited from buying one," Sorenson said. "While dealers are in aposition to exercise judgment when a customer is explicit about buying afirearm for someone else, some dealers appear willing to ignore or sidesteprelevant information to a sale — even when told that the end user wasprohibited from purchasing a firearm."

Researchers conducted telephone interviews with 120 handgundealers, six from each of the 20 largest U.S. cities with 10 or more dealers.Those cities included Baltimore; New York City; Philadelphia; Memphis, Tenn.;Nashville, Tenn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Oklahoma City; Houston; Dallas; SanAntonio, Texas; El Paso, Texas; Austin, Texas; Forth Worth, Texas; Cleveland;Indianapolis; Denver; Seattle; Phoenix, Ariz.; Los Angeles; and San Diego.

Dealers within each citywere randomly assigned to a male or female interviewer and then randomlyassigned to one of three purchase conditions: 1) the handgun was for thecaller, 2) the handgun was a gift for a girl or boyfriend, 3) the handgun wasfor a girl or boyfriend "because she/he needs it." Dealers were told, "I'venever done this before. What do I need to know?"

Federal law allows licensed firearm dealers to sell afirearm to any person who is not a prohibited purchaser, such as a convictedfelon. Guns may be purchased as gifts. Selling a handgun would be illegal underthe "need" condition.

The findings showed most dealers were willing to sell ahandgun regardless of the end user. If the handgun were identified as for thecaller, 87.5 percent of dealers would make the sale; if as a gift, 70.8percent; and if as a gift for someone who "needs it," 52.5 percent. The surveyalso showed that dealers in the Midwest, South and West were more willing tosell than those in the Northeast.

A follow-up survey of 20 additional telephone calls was madeafter the study was complete. The caller told the dealer, "My girl/boyfriendneeds me to buy her/him a handgun because she/he isn't allowed to." In 16 ofthe 20 calls, the dealer responded with an unequivocal "no." Each of the fourwho agreed to sell a handgun appeared to recognize that the sale would beillegal.

The UCLA School of Public Health is dedicatedto enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, trainingfuture leaders and health professionals, translating research into policy andpractice, and serving local, national and international communities. Detailedinformation about the school is available online at

The full article isavailable online at the Injury Prevention Web site:



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